Hospice of Warren County hosted a live webinar on the topic of "Helping Adolescents Cope with Loss" on Thursday.
Approximately 50 counselors, parents, volunteers and other interested persons learned about this unique aspect of grief and how to help.
Many topics were discussed by the panel of professionals who deal with adolescents in various settings (residential, schools, counseling centers). Interviews were conducted with teens who were in various stages of grief over the death of a friend, sibling, parent or grandparent. Discussion centered on each situation with particular attention to each teen's developmental stage and how they were handling the grief. "Adolescence" was loosely defined as early adolescence (middle school/junior high); middle adolescence (high school); and late adolescence (college, basically until a child reaches independence).
Because of the many changes an adolescent experiences in identity, independence and intimacy - and at different times and rates - grief counselors must pay careful attention to each child's language and the specific points they are sharing to discern how they can help. Also, grief comes in many forms - from anticipatory mourning in the case of an illness to crisis management in the case of a suicide or homicide.
Primarily, the counselors on the panel agreed that a person in a helping role must "meet them where they are at," reflecting the teen's concerns and helping them find the best, most appropriate action to meet their needs. The grieving teen needs affirmation and, possibly, direction.
It may be helpful to say to a teen in grief: "It makes perfect sense that you feel that way." Then, "How do you deal with that ..." anger, frustration, fear ... whatever the feeling may be.
The panel pointed out dozens of helpful tools for parents, teachers and counselors ... "Using hyper maturity (a teen acting like he is accepting what has happened a little too well) to deal with what's going on" may be a mask. The child may need to release that control emotionally. Also, when a parent dies, the mental health of the surviving parent is the best indicator of how the adolescent child will respond.
Overall, the panel agreed that teens need to be heard. That adults' best skills in dealing with grieving adolescents are to listen, ask questions and encourage the teen to share.
"Don't tell them what to do or who to trust," said one panelist. "Help them find those things."
The webinar was followed by a discussion with local social workers, school counselors and individuals who have experienced loss in their younger years. They addressed questions about the most beneficial ways to support young people through this as well as increasing awareness of what well-meaning interventions were not helpful.
"Hospice of Warren County has hosted this annual Hospice Foundation of America 'Living With Grief' teleconference for the past several years," said Lisa To, director of Hospice of Warren County. "Professional and public education has always been a priority of our agency. This teleconference was designed to equip professionals and individuals with knowledge and skills that will help them intervene in an effective way with grieving adolescents."
Having a local gathering in a learning opportunity helps participants "gain new insight (and) learn of local resources and network with others," To added.
This year's topic was particularly timely.
"People typically are uncomfortable with the topic of death and loss," To explained. "The reality is loss can happen at any time to anyone. It's helpful to have some education and preparation to deal with grieving people if we are to effectively help them as they work their way through their grief. Having knowledge of ways to optimally help grieving adolescents made this particular teleconference especially interesting."